Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau went into the season-opening contest versus the Pacers with no intentions of playing either point guards, Frank Ntilikina or Dennis Smith Jr.
The two 2017 lottery picks did not get their rookie contract extensions at Monday’s deadline and tellingly neither made Thibodeau’s 10-man rotation.
Even after backup point guard Immanuel Quickley went down late in the second quarter with a hip pointer, the Knicks coach tried to make do without them.
During the third quarter, when starting point guard Elfrid Payton picked up his third foul, Thibodeau tried a backcourt of Alec Burks and RJ Barrett instead of turning to Ntilikina or Smith.
That slowed the offense to a crawl and was a further indicator how the Frenchman and the former North Carolina State guard need to earn Thibodeau’s trust.
Asked why he went without a point guard, Thibodeau said, “Alec, in the past has played the point, had a big first half. We wanted to keep as much shooting on the floor as we can to try to create the opportunities that we’re looking for factored into it. It’s something that we obviously wanted to get a look at it. I think the more we do it the better it will get.”
It didn’t work, as the Pacers extended their lead to 88-82 after three quarters. Desperate, Thibodeau turned to Ntilikina to start the fourth and the 22-year-old didn’t take advantage as the Pacers ran away with it.
Ntilikina played five minutes, missed badly on both of his shot attempts and was a minus-5.
Before the contest, Ntilikina was uncertain if he had cracked the 10-man rotation. He had missed the final two preseason games with Achilles soreness.
“It’s going to be coach’s decision,” Ntilikina said after the morning shootaround. “As players we just have to be ready to jump on the court when they call us. The options we have, we have a lot of talented guards. That means a lot of options for coach.
“We’re going to be a talented team. Right now that question is more for coach to figure out what he’s going to do. My job is to be ready for each and every game.”
Monday’s deadline passed without Ntilikina, 22, getting a rookie contract extension — which was expected. Ntilikina said he never had discussions about it and he will, as previously reported, become a restricted free agent in 2021.
Hence, his future remains murky and a trade-deadline deal has to be a consideration if he’s not squarely in the rotation. Of course, the Knicks could add him to a package for a star as well.
Kevin Knox’s season got off to a slow start. He scored four points in 18 minutes and missed his first three shots.
Thibodeau went with a starting unit of Payton, Reggie Bullock, Barrett, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson. … The Knicks came out on fire from the 3-point line and finished 12 of 28 (42 percent). Barrett was 3 for 3 after struggling all last season and in preseason from deep.